Ahem, getting back on track with Robert Deford’s The Sealed Room, next up in our line-up of IF Comp 2012 entries. It’s a very short, easy parser-based conversation-based puzzle game. The description says as much: This conversation-based IF game is the equivalent to a short-short story in the non-IF world. This is entirely true. I’m a little surprised to see it here, actually, and not in some sort of flash-IF competition, like that game that involved a lich and a urinal cake that I probably didn’t hallucinate. Anyway, spoilers after the jump.
General: The Sealed Room is a weird little snack of a game where the player’s banished to some sort of magical room in the company of a unicorn and a dragon, who don’t seem to get on very well. In fact, they’re each sporting a bloody wound courtesy the other, which seems to be mostly due to a misunderstanding that’s mostly the dragon’s fault. This made me expect there was going to be some peacemaking involved in the game, or at least some danger of one killing the other (or better yet, having to get one or both to kill the other! ah, that’s so where my tastes run), but no, actually: the fact they’re in conflict is little more than flavor detail. Basically it turns out to be a straightforward game — I hesitate to even call it a series of puzzles because the game literally leads you to each bit holding your hand — where you talk to each of them about every topic possible (presented helpfully to you in a list), get a series of items, present them to the right people or do the right things with them, and then at the end you get out of your room and find out you get to be a room-NPC for other people in the future. Okay then. Hopefully you won’t end up quarreling violently with your cellmate next time. Anyway.
Writing: Hm. I guess I’d give the writing in this a 6/10, on a scale of whether it accomplished what it was going for: what it was going for was pretty simple and trivial, and it wasn’t trying to be much more serious or in-depth than it was, so I can’t say its silliness and shallowness were a failing, exactly. It was a 5-minute game, tops. It had a unicorn and a dragon who sulked a lot. It was that kind of game. I’m deducting those 4 figurative points because even within the framework of such a simplistic game, the writing (particularly dialogue) could’ve snapped, and it didn’t; it felt amateurish, a bit, like someone’s enthusiastic first-time creative-writing-class effort at fantasy-genre dialogue. But it wasn’t offensive or obstructive and I was amused by the dragon and unicorn’s conflict and the fact that the dragon was female and the unicorn male: yes, things like that please me. Honestly, I wish there’d been more dragon-unicorn development period in the game, both in conversation and in puzzle mechanics, because they were easily the centerpiece.
Design: I’m actually rather perplexed by this game. That’s not to say that I was perplexed playing it: in some ways it was the exact opposite playing experience to Changes, in that in Changes I spent the whole time wondering why I had no idea what to do next and in The Sealed Room I spent the whole time wondering why I had every idea what to do next. In truth it played like a tutorial, like either someone’s programmed tutorial to teach a first-time player how to use IF commands, interact with NPCs, pick up objects, and such, or their first-time effort at learning the ropes of Inform or something where they programmed just a very basic room escape. If that was the intent of it, it seemed to work. If it wasn’t, I’m not sure what was. It was incredibly easy. Nothing was in the room that wasn’t somehow relevant to escaping it. It was impossible to get sidetracked or confused: in-game cues always pointed you in the correct direction. I’m pretty sure there was literally no way to lose. Like I said, if it was a first-time IF tutorial, it worked handsomely. Otherwise, I’m very puzzled.
Overall, I… have very little else to say on the subject of this game. I’d try to contrive more, but it would be artificial; it’s an extremely short game, overall! There’s not much more I could say without pulling up a line-by-line transcript or something, and frankly I’ve practically already given you a line-by-line transcript, like I said, it’s an extremely short game. It’s very simple and beginnerish, both in how it was made and who it seems to be intended for. I can’t think of much more positive or negative to say about it, because I don’t know what its aspirations were as a game. I will say that if you choose to play it, if you don’t like it, you won’t have wasted much time on it, at least.